The exact meaning of deity is not similar throughout Tibetan Buddhism, rather they differ in various Tibetan Buddhist Schools and lineage. However, what is common in all is that deities are perceived as means of liberation and enlightenment for one and all. The function of a deity varies from the point of view of practitioners. They are used as an aid for meditation or function as a protector of the dharma and/or of an entire class of being.
It is also important to know that the word deity itself has a very different connotation in Buddhism. In other religion, the term deity is synonymous with either god or goddess who are themselves very similar to the normal human beings living on earth. They are prompted in their actions by elements like jealousy and power. However, deities in Tibetan Buddhism generally denote emptiness. Infact, many Tibetan Buddhists abandon deity worship after a point of time when they realise that it will no longer help them attain enlightenment.
Five Dhyani Buddha
The term dhyani is drawn from Sanskrit dhyana meaning meditation. The five Dhyani Buddhas are at the centre of Tibetan Buddhism and include Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amogasiddha. These are the celestial Buddha with a power to overcome evil by a specific good. They are visualised during meditation. The Dhyani Buddhas are frequently depicted in mandala and thankas.
The wrathful deities are extremely important in Tibetan Buddhism. Despite their ferocious outwardly appearance, these wrathful deities are not symbolic of evil. Rather, they are the benevolent gods who conquer evil, both externally and internally, so as to aid spiritual development. They also symbolise the immense effort that is required to eradicate evil. The most important group of the wrathful deities are the eight dharampalas or drag-gshed. Apart from the dharampalas, the other wrathful deities include the Heruka, the Lokpalas and the Kshetrapala.
Yidams are meditational deities, that is figures used as focus for practice. Also referred as tutelary deities, yidams are personal deities asssigned by spiritual mentor, guru or lama keeping in mind the student's personality and life circumstance or karma. Sometimes, it is said, that the yidam selects the students. Some of the most common chosen yidams include Hayagriva, Vajrakilaya, Samputa, Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, Hevajra, Kurukulle, Cakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, and Kalacakra. Also, other enlightened beings such as the regular forms of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Guru Rinpoche, certain Dharmapalas, Wealth Deities, and yab-yum representations are chosen as yidams.
Derived from Sanskrit vajra meaning thunderbolt/diamond and pani meaning lit in hand, Vajrapani is amongst the earliest bodhisattvas of the Mahayana Buddhism. He is considered the protector and guide of Buddha and represents Buddha's power. He is one of the three protective deity surrounding the Buddha along with Manjusri and Avalokitesvara. Vajrapani is a blue tantric figure with a flamed halo. He wears a garland of skulls and wreathes of snakes.
In Tibet, Jambala is considered the god of wealth and prosperity. He is represented in black colour, is dwarfish and has a potbelly. He is seated on a dragon with his right foot down and his knee up. A mongoose on his left thigh is shown vomiting jewel as it is squeezed. Jamabala is also represented in white form carrying a trident and sceptre.
Tara is the most important female deity of Tibet, the saviour goddess whose mantra om tare tuttare ture svaha) is next only to the mantra of Chenrezi (om mani padme hum). Tara is considered the goddess of universal compassion and represents virtuous and enlightened action. Her compassion supersedes even the love of a mother for her child. Tara also brings about long life, protects earthly travel and guards her devotees on their spiritual journey to enlightenment. Another female deity is Lha-mo, a wrathful deity and the protectoress of the city of Lhasa.
He is the wrathful aspect of Vajrapani who serves on the periphery of wrathful deity mandalas.